Page:Once a Week Volume 7.djvu/169

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Aug. 2, 1862.]
161
VERNER’S PRIDE.

told me on the day of his death that the will would be found in his desk: I supposed that to be it.”

“It is the will,” said Mr. Matiss. “But he caused me to draw up a later codicil, which revoked the bequest of Verner’s Pride. It is left to you absolutely.”

Lionel was searching in the desk. The few papers in it appeared to be arranged with the most methodical neatness: but they were small, chiefly old letters. “I don’t see anything like a codicil,” he observed. “You had better look yourself, Mr. Matiss: you will probably recognise it.”

Mr. Matiss advanced to the desk and looked in it. “It is not here!” he exclaimed.

Not there! They gazed at him, at the desk, at Lionel, half puzzled. The lawyer with rapid fingers was taking out the papers one by one.

“No, it is not here, in either compartment. I saw it was not, the moment I looked in; but it was well to be sure. Where has it been put?”

“I really do not know anything about it,” answered Lionel, to whom he looked as he spoke. “My uncle told me the will would be found in his desk. And the desk has not been opened since his death.”

“Could Mr. Verner himself have changed its place to somewhere else?” went on the lawyer, speaking with more than usual quickness, and turning over the papers with great rapidity.

“Not after he told me where the will was. He did not touch the desk after that. It was but just before his death. So far as I know, he had not had his desk brought out of the closet for days.”

“Yes, he had,” said the lawyer. “After he had executed the codicil on the evening previous to his death, he called for his desk, and put the parchment into it. It lay on the top of the will—this one. I saw that much.”

“I can testify that the codicil was locked in the desk, and the desk was then returned to the closet, for I happened to be present,” spoke up Dr. West. “I was one of the witnesses to the codicil, like I had been to the will. Mr. Verner must have moved it himself to some safer place.”

“What place could be safer than the desk in his own bedroom?” cried the lawyer. “And why move the codicil and not the will?”

“True,” assented Dr. West. “But—I don’t see—it could not go out of the desk without being moved out. And who would presume to meddle with it but himself? Who took possession of his keys when he died?” added the doctor, looking round at Mrs. Verner.

“I did,” said Lionel. “And they have not been out of my possession since. Nothing whatever has been touched: desk, drawers, every place belonging to him are as they were left when he died.”

Of course the only thing to do was to look for the codicil. Great interest was excited; and it appeared to be altogether so mysterious an affair that one and all flocked upstairs to the room: the room where he had died! where the coffin had but just gone out of. Mrs. Tynn was summoned: and when she found what was amiss, she grew excited; fearing possibly that the blame might in some way fall upon her. Saving Lionel himself, she was the only one who had been alone with Mr. Verner: of course, the only one who could have had an opportunity of tampering with the desk. And that, only when the patient slept.

“I protest that the desk was never touched, after I returned it to the closet by my master’s desire, when the parchment was put into it!” she cried. “My master never asked for his desk again, and I never so much as opened the closet. It was only the afternoon before he died, gentlemen, that the deed was signed.”

“Where did he keep his keys?” asked Mr. Bitterworth.

“In the little table-drawer at his elbow, sir. The first day he took to his bed, he wanted his keys, and I got them out of his dressing-gown pocket for him. ‘You needn’t put ’em back,’ he says to me, ‘let ’em stop inside this little drawer.’ And there they stayed till he died, when I gave ’em up to Mr. Lionel.”

“You must have let somebody get into the room, Mrs. Tynn,” said Dr. West.

“I never was away from the room above two minutes at a time, sir,” was the woman’s reply. “And then, either Mr. Lionel or Tynn would be with him. But, if any of ’em did come in, it’s not possible they’d get picking at the master’s desk to take out a paper. What good would the paper do any of the servants?”

Mrs. Tynn’s question was a pertinent one. The servants were neither the better nor the worse for the codicil: whether it were forthcoming, or not, it made no difference to them. Sir Rufus Hautley inquired upon this point, and the lawyer satisfied him.

“The codicil was to this effect alone;” he explained. “It changed the positions of Mr. Lionel and Mr. Frederick Massingbird, the one for the other, as they had stood in the will. Mr. Lionel came into the inheritance, and Mr. Frederick Massingbird to five hundred pounds only.”

“They two were the only parties interested in the codicil, then?”

“The only two. John Massingbird’s name was mentioned, but only to revoke all former bequests to him, of any sort.”

“Then—were John Massingbird alive, he could not now succeed to the estate!” cried Sir Rufus.

“He could not, Sir Rufus,” replied the lawyer. “He would be debarred from all benefit under Mr. Verner’s will. That is, provided we can come across the codicil. Failing that, he would succeed, were he in life, to Verner’s Pride.”

“The codicil must be found,” cried Mr. Bitterworth, getting heated. “Don’t say, ‘if we can come across it,’ Matiss.”

“Very good, Mr. Bitterworth. I’m sure I should be glad to see it found. Where else are we to look?”

Where else, indeed? That Mr. Verner could not get out of the room, to hide the codicil, was an indisputable fact; and nobody else seemed to know anything whatever about it. The only one personally interested in the suppression of the codicil was Frederick Massingbird; and he, hundreds of miles away, could neither have secured it nor sent his ghost to secure it. In a